Bible Diary for January 23rd – 29th

January 23rd

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Vincent
St. Ildephonsus
St. Marianne Cope
St. Emerentiana

1st Reading: Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6, 8-10:
Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men, women and all the children who could understand what was being read. It was the first day of the seventh month. So he read it before the plaza in front of the Water Gate from dawn till noon, before the men, women and those children who could understand. All the people were eager to hear the book of the law. Ezra, the teacher of the law, stood on a wooden platform built for that occasion. [He] opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was in a higher place; and when he opened it, all the people stood. Ezra praised Yahweh the great God; and all the people lifted up their hands and answered, “Amen! Amen!”

And they bowed their heads to the ground. They read from the book of the law of God, clarifying and interpreting the meaning, so that everyone might understand what they were hearing. Then Ezra, the teacher of the law, said to the people, “This day is dedicated to Yahweh, your God, so do not be sad or weep.” He said this because all wept when they heard the reading of the law. Then he said to them, “Go and eat rich foods, drink sweet wine and share with him who has nothing prepared. This day is dedicated to the Lord, so do not be sad. The joy of Yahweh is our strength.”

2nd Reading: 1 Cor 12:12-30:
As the body is one, having many members, and all the members, while being many, form one body, so it is with Christ. All of us, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, have been baptized in one Spirit, to form one body, and all of us have been given, to drink from the one Spirit. The body has not just one member, but many. If the foot should say, “I do not belong to the body for I am not a hand,” it would be wrong: it is part of the body! Even though the ear says, “I do not belong to the body for I am not an eye,” it is part of the body. If all the body were eye, how would we hear? And if all the body were ear, how would we smell? God has arranged all the members, placing each part of the body as he pleased.

If all were the same part where would the body be? But there are many members and one body. The eye cannot tell the hand, “I do not need you,” nor the head tell the feet, “I do not need you.” Still more, the parts of our body that we most need are those that seem to be the weakest; the parts that we consider lower are treated with much care, and we cover them with more modesty because they are less presentable, whereas the others do not need such attention. God, himself, arranged the body in this way, giving more honor to those parts that need it, so that the body may not be divided, but, rather, each member may care for the others.

When one suffers, all of them suffer, and when one receives honor, all rejoice together. Now, you are the body of Christ, and each of you, individually, is a member of it. So God has appointed us in the Church. First apostles, second prophets, third teachers. Then come miracles, then the gift of healing, material help, administration in the Church and the gift of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Can all perform miracles, or cure the sick, or speak in tongues, or explain what was said in tongues?

Gospel: Lk 1:1-4; 4:14-21:
Several people have set themselves to relate the events that have taken place among us, as they were told by the first witnesses, who later became ministers of the word. After I, myself, had carefully gone over the whole story from the beginning, it seemed right for me to give you, Theophilus, an orderly account, so that your Excellency may know the truth of all you have been taught. Jesus acted with the power of the Spirit; and on his return to Galilee, the news about him spread throughout all that territory. He began teaching in the synagogues of the Jews and everyone praised him.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, as he usually did. He stood up to read, and they handed him the book of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus then unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor; to proclaim liberty to captives; and new sight to the blind; to free the oppressed; and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy.” Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he said to them, “Today, these prophetic words come true, even as you listen.”

On Sundays the gospel readings are usually taken from one of the Synoptic Gospels. The Synoptics are the first three gospels–Matthew, Mark, Luke–which give a similar presentation of Jesus. Starting on this January Sunday, we shall read in continuous sequence the Gospel of Luke. This Gospel of Luke is especially precious because it reports many parables (such as the most beautiful parable of all, that of the Prodigal Son) and many incidents (such as the last-minute conversion of the Good Thief) which are not found in the other gospels.

Luke was a doctor by profession (Col 4:14), and a man of compassion. His gospel concentrates on Jesus-the-compassionate-man, compassionate especially towards the poor, sinners, women, outcasts. But he is also scientific-minded and always tries to be precise. For example, he always speaks of the Sea of Galilee as being a lake, not a sea. Today we read the first paragraph of his gospel, and there we see that Luke researched his topic with painstaking care before setting pen to paper.

With him we are on solid historical ground. The gospels are based on facts, on real events—not on fantasy or fiction. Hundreds of people died rather than deny the facts concerning Jesus. Let us ask for the grace of realizing once and for all how solidly historical our Christian faith is. Make an effort to clarify some point of your Christian faith.

January 24th

St. Francis de Sales

2 Sm 5:1-7, 10:
All the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said: “Here we are, your bone and your flesh. In days past, when Saul was our king, it was you who led the children of Israel out and brought them back. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall shepherd my people Israel and shall be commander of Israel.’” When all the elders of Israel came to David in Hebron, King David made an agreement with them there before the Lord, and they anointed him king of Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king,  and he reigned for forty years:  seven years and six months in Hebron over Judah, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem over all Israel and Judah. Then the king and his men set out for Jerusalem against the Jebusites who inhabited the region. David was told, “You cannot enter here: the blind and the lame will drive you away!” which was their way of saying, “David cannot enter here.” But David did take the stronghold of Zion, which is the City of David. David grew steadily more powerful, for the Lord of hosts was with him.

Gospel: Mk 3:22-30:
Meanwhile, the teachers of the law, who had come from Jerusalem, said, “He is in the power of Beelzebul: the chief of the demons helps him to drive out demons.” Jesus called them to him, and began teaching them by means of stories, or parables. “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a nation is divided by civil war, that nation cannot stand. If a family divides itself into groups, that family will not survive. In the same way, if Satan has risen against himself and is divided, he will not stand; he is finished.

“No one can break into the house of a strong man in order to plunder his goods, unless he first ties up the strong man. Then indeed, he can plunder his house. Truly, I say to you, every sin will be forgiven humankind, even insults to God, however numerous. But whoever slanders the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He carries the guilt of his sin forever.”  This was their sin when they said, “He has an unclean spirit in him.”

In the Scriptures, we can quote words of God the Father and of Jesus but we cannot find any word that we can attribute to the Holy Spirit. It is the aspect of the Holy Trinity that shows that God remains MYSTERIUM TREMENDUM. But in my experience it is the Holy Spirit that seems to be the one that is most active in my spiritual life. I love the feast of the Pentecost. I feel that the Holy Spirit realizes most of the aspirations of my life, enlightening me when I am in darkness or when confronted with difficult choices. I attribute to the Spirit the sudden insights the inspirations that suddenly present themselves to my mind.

There are also unexpected events not only in my personal life but in our life as a people that I attribute to the Spirit. When things seem to go all wrong and there is no solution in sight, the Holy Spirit acts in a manner exceeding our wildest imagination. Maybe that is why Jesus kept on saying that when the Paraclete comes, she will teach the apostles all truth and they would begin to understand what Jesus was trying to tell them all along. “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be created and thou shalt renew the face of the earth!”

January 25th

Conversion of St. Paul

1st Reading: Acts 22:3-16:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here, in this city, where I was educated in the school of Gamaliel, according to the strict observance of our law. And I was dedicated to God’s service, as are all of you today. As for this way, I persecuted it to the point of death and arrested its followers, both men and women, throwing them into prison. The High Priest and the whole Council of elders can bear witness to this. From them, I received letters for the Jewish brothers in Damascus; and I set out to arrest those who were there, and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

“But, as I was traveling along, nearing Damascus, at about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly flashed about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ I answered: ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me: ‘I am Jesus, the Nazorean, whom you persecute.’ The men who were with me saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked: ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord replied: ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there, you will be told all that you are destined to do.’ Yet, the brightness of that light had blinded me; and, so, I was led by the hand into Damascus by my companions.

“There, a certain Ananias came to me. He was a devout observer of the law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who were living there. As he stood by me, he said: ‘Brother Saul, recover your sight.’ At that moment, I could see; and I looked at him. He, then, said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One, and to hear the words from his mouth. From now on you shall be his witness before all the pagan people, and tell them all that you have seen and heard. And now, why delay? Get up and be baptized; and have your sins washed away, by calling upon his Name.’”

Gospel: Mk 16:15-18:
Then he told them, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned. Signs like these will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”

It seems strange to speak of Paul’s “conversion.” Why? Because, when we refer to a person as having “converted,” we usually mean to say that such person once led a life of sinful depravity and is now leading a virtuous life. Thus we speak of St. Augustine’s “conversion.” But the case of Paul does not fit that stereotype. For he never led a depraved life. As he states about himself in today’s first reading, “I was dedicated to God’s service.” In fact, he was about as strict a Pharisee as you could find. And so, why speak of conversion? Here we do well to analyze the word “conversion.”

It means basically an about-face, a turning towards. In Paul’s case, it simply meant that, like the proverbial stupid soccer player who is unknowingly trying to score against his own team, Paul was running in the wrong direction. He was fervent to a fault, but he was unknowingly spending all his energy fighting Christ instead of serving him. His “conversion” finally sets him on the right course. With an honest person, that is always possible. Once set on this right course, Paul heroically ran to his Goal, Jesus Christ, and died for him.

January 26th

Sts. Timothy and Titus

1st Reading: 2 Tim 1:1–8:
From Paul, apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of his promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus, to my dear son Timothy. May grace, mercy and peace be with you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I give thanks to God whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my ancestors did, as I remember you constantly, day and night, in my prayers. I recall your tears and I long to see you that I may be filled with joy.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, so like the faith of your grandmother Lois and of your mother Eunice, which I am sure you have inherited. For this reason I invite you to fan into a flame the gift of God you received through the laying on of my hands. For God did not confer on us a spirit of bashfulness, but of strength, love and good judgment. Do not be ashamed of testifying to our Lord, nor of seeing me in chains. On the contrary, do your share in laboring for the Gospel with the strength of God.

Gospel: Mk 4:1-20:
On another occasion, Jesus began to teach by the sea. A very large crowd gathered around him so that he got into a boat on the sea and sat down. And the whole crowd was beside the sea on land. And he taught them at length in parables, and in the course of his instruction he said to them, “Hear this! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”

He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.” And when he was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables. He answered them, “The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.” Jesus said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown.

“As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no roots; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches,  and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word,  and it bears no fruit. But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

The parable of the sower has been read by people throughout the ages. Certainly there are nuances of meaning in different contexts but the meaning remains: THE DIFFERENTWAYS OF RECEIVING THE WORD OF GOD. In our times, who could be the Satan that plucks the word of God out of our hearts — would it be the love of money, prestige, power? What are our roots — good family life, religious education, fidelity in prayer? What are the thorns that choke up the life of the seed — worries about our loss of power, loss of material things? Then there is the good soil.

What makes soil good? Could it be radical openness to what the word demands from us? Could it be fidelity to this word amid temptations, challenges, difficulties, suffering and misery? Could it be nourishment through prayer, sacrifice and service to people? Lord, please give me first of all the gift of listening with the ear of my heart. Help me to understand what your word is telling me at the moment. Give me the courage to do what you are asking from me in spite of obstacles and difficulties. And finally, grant that when the seed grows in me and bears fruit, help me to share it with others in compassion and love. Amen.

January 27th

St. Angela Merici

1st Reading: 2 Sm 7:18-19, 24-29:
Then king David went in, sat before Yahweh and said, “Who am I, O Yahweh God, and who is my family that you have brought me so far? Yet this was not enough for you, O Yahweh God, for you have also spoken of your servant’s house for a long time to come. Is this the way men act, O Yahweh God? You have set apart your people Israel to become your people forever; and you, Yahweh, have become their God. Now, O Yahweh God, keep forever the promise you made and have now revealed to me regarding myself and my family, that your name may be honored forever and people may say, ‘Yahweh of Hosts is God over Israel.’

“The house of your servant David will be secure before you because you, O Yahweh of Hosts, God of Israel, have made it known to your servant and have said to him: ‘Your family will last forever.’ This is why I have dared to address this prayer to you. So now, O Yahweh God, since you are the faithful God, and have promised me this good thing, please bless my descendants, that they may continue forever before you. For you, O Yahweh God, have spoken and, with your blessing, my family shall be blessed forever.”

Gospel: Mk 4:21-25:
Jesus also said to them, “When the light comes, is it put under a basket or a bed? Surely it is put on a lamp stand. Whatever is hidden will be disclosed, and whatever is kept secret will be brought to light. Listen then, if you have ears!” And he also said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. In the measure you give, so shall you receive, and still more will be given to you. For to the one who produces something, more will be given; and from him who does not produce anything, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

We usually associate courage with action: the discovery of new lands, the facing of dangers on the high seas, the undertaking of tasks against impossible odds. And here we have dozens of novels and movies staging swashbuckling daredevils ready for adventure and excitement. That is courage, we spontaneously think. However, in reality that is merely physical courage. But there are other forms of courage, one of them being intellectual courage. Naturally it is much less impressive than physical courage, for it is not displayed in feats of action. Yet, it is every bit—and perhaps more—admirable than physical courage.

January 28th

St. Thomas Aquinas

1st Reading: 2 Sm 11:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17:
At the turn of the year, when kings go out on campaign, David sent out Joab along with his officers and the army of Israel,  and they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. David, however, remained in Jerusalem. One evening David rose from his siesta and strolled about on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing, who was very beautiful. David had inquiries made about the woman and was told, “She is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, and wife of Joab’s armor bearer Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers and took her. When she came to him, he had relations with her. She then returned to her house. But the woman had conceived,  and sent the information to David, “I am with child.”

David therefore sent a message to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. When he came, David questioned him about Joab, the soldiers, and how the war was going, and Uriah answered that all was well. David then said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and bathe your feet.”   Uriah left the palace, and a portion was sent out after him from the king’s table. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the royal palace with the other officers of his lord, and did not go down to his own house. David was told that Uriah had not gone home. On the day following, David summoned him, and he ate and drank with David, who made him drunk.

But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his bed among his lord’s servants, and did not go down to his home. The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab which he sent by Uriah. In it he directed: “Place Uriah up front, where the fighting is fierce. Then pull back and leave him to be struck down dead.” So while Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to a place where he knew the defenders were strong. When the men of the city made a sortie against Joab,  some officers of David’s army fell, and among them Uriah the Hittite died.

Gospel: Mk 4:26-34:
Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

He said, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables he did not speak to them, but to his own disciples he explained everything in private.

Today’s first reading presents us with one of the darkest pages of the entire Bible. There we witness the progress of evil in a human heart, that of David, a man blessed by God in so many ways, yet who lets sin take hold of his soul to the point when he has a good and faithful soldier, Uriah the Hittite, treacherously killed so that his own betrayal of Uriah’s marriage may remain a secret. Now let us notice that the whole sordid episode begins with a lustful look: David’s ogling of a naked woman.

Had David averted his eyes when he realized that he was seeing a beautiful woman bathing, nothing would have happened—no adultery, no deceitful attempt to cover his tracks, no murder. It is not for nothing that Jesus warned us: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). In itself, lust is certainly not the most serious of sins. But it tends to bring about a host of other sins far more harmful to the soul. Our modern culture positively encourages us to lust after half naked beauty queens and pin-ups. Are we aware of how much we are manipulated by the mass media in this respect?

January 29th

2 Sm 12:1-7a, 10-17:
The Lord sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him, Nathan said: “Judge this case for me! In a certain town there were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers. But the poor man had nothing at all  except one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He nourished her, and she grew up with him and his children. She shared the little food he had and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom. She was like a daughter to him. Now, the rich man received a visitor, but he would not take from his own flocks and herds to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and made a meal of it for his visitor.”

David grew very angry with that man and said to him: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this merits death! He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity.” Then Nathan said to David:  “You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘The sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight. You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.’”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan answered David: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die. But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die.” Then Nathan returned to his house. The Lord struck the child that the wife of Uriah had borne to David, and it became desperately ill. David besought God for the child. He kept a fast, retiring for the night  to lie on the ground clothed in sackcloth. The elders of his house stood beside him  urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor would he take food with them.

Gospel: Mk 4:35-41:
On that same day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” So they left the crowd, and took him along in the boat he had been sitting in, and other boats set out with him. Then a storm gathered and it began to blow a gale. The waves spilled over into the boat, so that it was soon filled with water. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up, and said, “Master, don’t you care if we drown?” And rising up, Jesus rebuked the wind, and ordered the sea, “Quiet now! Be still!” The wind dropped, and there was a great calm. Then Jesus said to them, “Why are you so frightened? Do you still have no faith?” But they were terrified, and they said to one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

There is something a bit comical in the episode reported in today’s first reading. And this comic side of a story which, in itself, is quite dramatic (it involves the death of Uriah the Hittite and of David’s illegitimate child) arises from the fact that David is unable to connect the dots and see through Nathan’s little parable. He is spiritually blind and does not really see his guilt in his adulterous affair with Bathsheba—until Nathan spells it out to him: “You are this man!”

The end of the story (the illness and death of Bathsheba’s baby) is of course a very debatable interpretation on the part of Nathan. In typical Old Testament fashion, when witnessing an untoward event (such as the death of a baby), people spontaneously attribute it to either God or some evil entity. But that is pure projection on God of their own primitive convictions about what they would do if they were God. But, in reality, God does not kill babies or anybody else for that matter. Our God is essentially a God of life. When Jesus comes and shows us the true face of God, he kisses children. He doesn’t kill them. Would his Father be any different?